Friday, April 17, 2009

Petit Manan, 5/87.

From the point where the sun departs, Mount Cadillac, Schoodic Point, Gouldsboro. Toward the focus of Compassion, of growth, Petit Manan Lighthouse.

To the region of goals and chores, it’s Big Bubert, a distant Cape Split and a mist cloaked Great Wass with its family of islands huddled against a brink where the channel drops its floor.

And, in the direction of Resolve, Resistance and Endurance the long trowel of a point embraces the mass bearing Pigeon Hill and the heath draped backlands.

The ears meet a constant sea muted whine of an offshore gull raft. A bell buoy threads through a tinkly soprano melody and breakers mark time with hushed pedal tones..fploashhh..fploashhh...fploashhh… phwaoshshsh…phwaoshhh.

The jet stream has combed the upper day sky clouds into long feathery strands. The water made rock wall is bedecked with a flotsam riot remnant. Human debris includes lobstering gear, bleach jugs, rope of many colors, some dainty shoe from a fisherman’s wife and a melange of logs and spars, some bearing testimony to encounters with humanity and some which appear to have escaped.

And then there are dense scatters of mussel shells often intermixed with storm ripped kelps and wracks busily rotting and entertaining flies. There are even a few small boat wreck fragments and a spiked pier cradle indicating the power of prior winter storms. The rock piles form a contiguous metropolis for a spider species eternally scampering in and out of the extensive cranny matrix.

Petit Manan is a National Wildlife Refuge with a splendid blend of ecotones and habitats including a fat sphagnum bog wooded uplands, meadows and cobble shores. I bushwhacked through the bog for a while following deer trails through spruce so thick at times, you had to squeeze through.

I eventually came out near old field lanes that led to the main traverse road. I took this back to the campsite, stopping at a meadow pond for water. My feet were soaked but, instead of blistering, they pickled from the acidic bog water.

There are two trails in the refuge. One simply follows the eastside shore down to the narrow tip. The other leads through mixed forest upland to Birch Point at the north west edge. The two trails complement each other and between them, feature nearly all of the coastal ecotones from cobble tidelands to upland copses, thickets, meadows and groves.

I prefer the Birch Point trail. It offers upland woods in various states of succession from ericad shrub thickets to beech groves and tracts of fir running to the waters edge. I met my first pair of golden crowned kinglets along the way to Birch Point in the trails high slope copses of heath-carpeted hemlock, young beech and birch. Descending the slope northward are the conifer groves of balsam fir mingled with cedars, hemlock and spruce.

I found a furball scat left by a coyote and some bear tree claw marks on an older beech. Antler scrapes on branches were abundant. Mornings grim, gray beginning gave way to a warm breezy spring day, Newfie style.

The Birch point loop segment doesn’t quite get you to the tip of Birch Point, you have to bushwhack. In my case, the final ten yards were covered in a stealthy crawl in order to watch a group of red breasted mergansers joined by a few eiders. The effort was rewarded by a good long look at their placid, dive dappled rambling, always covered by one or two floating lookouts. Eventually, they noticed me and put some distance between us.

The refuge was crawling with fat, shambling porcupines. I met two on the way back. One was rummaging in the strew of marsh hay bracken left by the high water storm line. I got to within three feet of it before we noticed each other. It faced me ‘til I pulled out a penny whistle and noodled a bit. This convinced it to waddle off and join its brethren at a leisurely spruce tip buffet. The first morning here, a pair of them involved in some sort of off-season nuptial ritual serenaded me.

The song was a melismatic squawk recalling a sampled snippet of a Tuareg musette chorus. Birch Point’s ensemble of ecotones will reward repeated visits. The cove alongside the point houses extensive and fairly pristine soft-shell clam flats.

The area is liberally peppered with deer scat. One night, a small herd sought shelter from rain in the grove near my tent. The storm must have masked my smell. I woke up and coughed in the middle of the night causing them to leap, yelp and scatter.

My last sunset vespers there were conducted by a troop of raccoons searching the rocks and wrack for mussels. The sky was awash with pale bands of violet and was accompanied, for a few glowing moments, by a Big Bubert bathed in late day glimmer. Warbler group lead teams were just beginning to fan off to nest.

Chuck Snowden was my local ride mentor. He is a smart genial African American who had just turned fifty-four. He lives in Waltham Maine and brought me from Ellsworth to the Refuge parking lot. He had recently retired from his job at the Department of Defense and supplemented his income by doing free lance carpentry work.

He's made a good life in Maine, when we met, he was on his way to install Hancock Point and Tunk Lake Road to install 'For Sale ' signs for a local realtor who pays him ten bucks a pop. He's put up 19 in the past week. The way back was more challenging.

I began the hitchhike in the teeth of one of those huge slow spring nor'easters that followed me south. And, on the human side, real Maine gets diluted south of Augusta by Mall Culture. The undifferentiated terrain of the United State of Generica digs its claws in signaled by the transition from colorful old shitboxes and pickups to Saabs and Volvos. This is a more nervous crowd and rides are few and far between.

I waited in Augusta too long and ended up raising my tent at sundown on the pine-clad bluff of an interstate roadcut near Richmond. I got home the following afternoon. A common thread among those who picked me up was a reverence for the Living World in some way or another.

There was a millworker intent on monitoring the progress of the Atlantic Salmon's return. A retired naval officer ran a sea kayaking tour service along the Downeast Coast. Clammers extolled their hunter gatherer lives and auslanders sang their praises to the land.

A week or so after I got back, I noticed an article in the Globe on ground level ozone spikes in Southern Maine. The map pattern corresponded closely to the boundary of Generica's encroachment. Go Figure!